Hi. My name’s Noreen and probably the last person you would think who would be studying bellydance. I’ve never taken other dance classes, never played any competitive sports, and I’m not at all outgoing. Small talk makes me uncomfortable, eye contact can be too intense for me and having to meet with anyone to talk about myself (whether that be a performance review, a job interview or even a date) can be downright horrifying.
So how did I end up at Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy?
A little over a year ago I was struggling with gaining weight despite being more active and watching what I ate. I was eventually diagnosed with a thyroid problem, but I was really beating myself up in addition to just not feeling comfortable in my own skin. I had studied bellydance for a few years in the mid-1990s and enjoyed it, so I decided to look around for classes. I thought going for the physical benefits—particularly increasing strength and flexibility—would make it worth a try.
I decided to drop in to a Saturday morning Hip Curve class and finding bellydance again was like reuniting with a long-lost love.
Is it scary? Of course! It took awhile for me to feel like I could stop thinking that I looked silly, or that other people were judging me. (They weren’t!) What happens, though, I think, is that my brain requires every bit of its capacity to make my rib cage move just a little to the left or to the right, or to do any of a variety of bellydance movements. There is literally no room left in my brain for self-criticism. The learning curve is still very much there a year, even after a year of usually twice-weekly classes. I’m still very much a beginner, but everyone in class knows how difficult it is, so it is very much a supportive environment—our instructors and fellow students are great people!
I just really can’t say enough about how great a community it is. There’s a lot of collaboration, and humor, and most especially, support. My life outside of class has been filled with perhaps more than my usual share of hardships in the past year and it has been such a wonderful thing to find Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy when I did.
In addition to the dance itself, and the people, I love the music. And the costuming. The music is so intricate, and dramatic, and the rhythms are fascinating. Plus most of the music that does have vocals are in another language, so my brain is often caught up in trying to memorize music it can’t “sing along” to…I think it tends to keep the creative side of my brain working very hard while I’m doing monotonous tasks or just zoning out on the bus rides to and from work.
There are different styles of bellydance and that’s easiest to see, I think, in the costuming, although the dance styles differ as well. I really like cabaret because I like glittery things. There is something very transformational about trying on a cabaret costume for the first time. For me it was very empowering!
And then there are the opportunities to rehearse and perform with our student troupe, Troupe Faraatha. Talk about a terrifying thought! I didn’t think I was ready to try it out last March, or that I could learn the choreography for 4 whole minutes of music. Mind you, it’s instrumental and so my brain had to try to memorize all of that music plus all of the choreography that went with it. I felt a little like Cinderella…especially when it came to all of the costuming help I needed. (Thanks, Shanna!) My performance wasn’t perfect, or even close to it, but it was such an adrenaline rush, and so much fun, that I’ve managed to keep doing it. I’ve rehearsed a lot of different choreographies with the troupe and rehearsing is where a lot of the fun is for me. Performing is the nerve-wracking icing on the cake—but each time I do it, I feel so much stronger and more confident.
Lately when I have been in intense one-on-one meetings, people have been saying things to me like, “this doesn’t make you nervous?” or “this doesn’t intimidate you?” They have no idea how far I’ve come in the past year. I’m sure part of it is body language—good, strong posture is essential in bellydance—but I think another part is literally a changed brain. I can focus so much better now, and can tune out all of those distracting, self-doubting thoughts. And my physical strength and flexibility is better too. There’s just so much to love about bellydance! Here’s hoping you can stop by Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy sometime soon and give it a try.
Thank you for sharing your experience Noreen! Join us any time for one of our fun and uplifting classes at the Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy!